Freedom of Tweet and Internet Speak

Bassel Khartabil is an innovator of internet technology and created a  space for people to explore a new world internet. His activism with regard to the internet as a platform for free speech unfortunately, cost him his freedom. When free speech comes in conflict with  corrupt regimes and those that rule with oppression the victims become those that are speaking out….Bassel Khartabil. His (detainment) arrest was a blow to  online communities and the freedom of expression he fought to create online.

The opportunity to express ones displeasure with government regimes is often met with resistance and even murder. Bassel Khartabil has disappeared, how does someone disappear while being detained and locked-up? As we learned in class last Thursday with the guest speaker Shahid Buttar the information gathered by governments like the United States is often used to suppress any movement that is a threat to the economic and political means of those in power. This was evidenced by the files that were taken from the FBI by the Vietnam Veterans that implicated the organization for manifesting malicious actions towards Martin Luther King. One wonders is they broke in two years later what would we discover about the death of John F. Kennedy. Governments have a way of making those that speak out either remain in jail, become discredited and/or disappear/are murdered.

Sadly, Bassel Khartabil has an opportunity to come to the United States and work as professor at MIT as noted in the text for this week. We as a nation can no longer expand our Imperialism in countries around the world for resource extraction and then build a wall around ourselves. In effect, we want our hands in everyone’s cookie jar although, you better not try to get any of our yummy cookies. We have our own sad history of detainees and Trump announced yesterday that no other detainees at Gitmo will be released…”they are very dangerous to the world and must never be released.” It appears as if the government of Syria also finds Bassel to be very dangerous and that he must never be released….Who is it that is threatened by the release? Bassel was an internet frontiersman with vision for a future were open exchange of thoughts and ideas is a paramount concept to the expansion of the human race. Shall we digress as a race and continue to suppress freedom of speech and information… Stand-up for these rights or you may find yourself carried away (detained, disappeared) next!

 

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The Double Edged Sword of Bloggers

The idea of a completely autonomous, free, unchecked blogger corps is an interesting double edged sword. On the one hand it is the fundamental right of human beings to not only  be able to access the internet as a public good, but to be able to post, search for, and partake in whatever they desire on the web. It is a right for the individual (and after all what is the blogger if not a private citizen free of regulations and censorship that news publications might impose on journalists?) to speak their mind and to draw from their own personal experiences to perhaps connect with or inform other individuals on the internet. That being said, a blogger corps does not carry with it the credibility of the journalist and the news publication. Just as it is unchecked in regards to censorship, it is unchecked factually. The blogger is free to publish whatever they desire. Now often times the blogger is motivated to publish content because of very real circumstances, very real injustice, very real and raw emotion. But the fact remains the same, the blogger’s content is unchecked for everything, including the truth. That being said, I think it is extremely necessary to protect the existence and the rights of blogger and the individual existence of opinion on the net just as much as it is important to protect the right of the fourth estate. The two do to have to exist in unison. The two, although both dealing in the developments of society, actually cover vastly different areas of the human condition. The news outlet can remain as the factual news source while the blogosphere becomes the source for the actual emotion the experience of the oppressed. Both remain very real, both can work together in unison to appeal to both the logos and pathos of the individual in order to inform the public, but where they divide and become different is where the blogger must be protected. The publication of personal biases may be a double edged sword but it is nonetheless a basic human right.

Freedom of Conscience

Freedom of Speech is one of the most fundamental human rights allowed in many governances, though many countries do not share that same luck. When examining the countries that suppress their constituents voices, the battlefield of resistance is mostly carried out online. Bloggers who label themselves as Political Activists are some of the most active proponents in advancing freedoms for themselves and others in countries that have gone as far as banning assembly of more than five people and banning Facebook & YouTube. What the governments fear behind the freedom of speech and freedom to explore information via the internet is the ability to realize, question and criticize the modes of oppression they are under.

Bassel Khartabil was one of the greatest advocates for an unrestricted and open source internet in the Arab world. His advances in establishing the creative commons in Arabic allowed for the growth of a prominent hacker-space in Syria and open web for his country. Though in the midst of the Arab Spring uprisings, he was arrested and then disappeared completely under the Syrian regime. The charges he was arrested under was “harming state security,” which was completely illegitimate, since Bassel’s contributions only benefitted the country by helping others share information via the internet.

I think one of the most important remarks to take away from the circumstances that Bassel and his community have undergone is the importance of freedom of speech and expression. Bassel Khartabil provided the technology and space for people to explore a free internet, and thus a free conscious to question corrupt regimes. His arrest is a stab at the online communities right to share and express ideas, thus explaining the Arab worlds anger on the disappearance and presumed death of such a bright young mind.

Keyboard Warriors

The term “keyboard warrior” was first introduced to me when I was on a forum for some video game or something like that. It was used to describe someone who was being extremely opinionated and in some cases acting cocky. As old as I am now, I am still realizing how important being a keyboard warrior is and that the ability to become one is neglected through the many internet users out there. Being able to voice your opinion strongly is something that I feel that people should be allowed to do especially when sending an important message. The MENA use internet blogging in a very professional and useful way to spread awareness of important news. Thinking of this reminds me how I can use internet differently or efficiently to contribute to a discussion in someway.

Bassell Khartabil’s arrest was shocking because something so masterful also got him in trouble. His contribution by his excellent works like Wikipedia and Firefox were platforms that helped people network with each other. However, it’s not all safe for Arabic bloggers due to the heavy laws of censorship. Recently, I read about the UN and how they made the internet a human right and it doesn’t seem like that in Arab countries.

Another problem in a different scale about the internet is in debate right now here in the United States. Recently, I learned about net neutrality and how we as internet consumers are getting gypped of our right to the internet. Net neutrality is the term that describes the internet being an open space without any applications or websites being prioritized nor hidden by the ISPs themselves. The reason why I thought of this while reading the article is because I net neutrality could definitely be an issue the MENA might be facing without them knowing it because guess who controls the internet service providers there? Probably the government.

Locked Up for Wanting Freedom

Not everyone has the privilege of browsing and posting anything on the internet, or in real life, like we do in the United States. Freedom is a right here, but it is something people are still fighting for in the middle east, and it is why Bassel Khartabil got arrested and went missing. From the articles, his work for Creative Commons and Wikipedia is truly amazing; his effort in educating people and forming a collaborative force working towards freedom is the most impressive, even though it also got him into a lot of trouble.

6 weeks into this course and I’m still constantly shocked by how much I take the freedom I enjoy for granted – seeing Khartabil’s case after all the others had reminded me that there are people risking their lives for this. Dheere’s article on Arab bloggers was also very interesting, because they refuse to be called journalists, and it might be true, because Arab bloggers are more than journalists. They are essentially activists, activists who are risking their lives to get information to the people for a better society, because activism can begin as small as a blog post. It is disheartening how someone as brilliant as Khartabil could just get wiped out like that, which has probably happened to way more people. This effectively makes an example and silences other people who might want the same thing – freedom.

Another article on the movement’s website that caught my attention was about President Trump’s executive order that suspended the refugee program. This means that even though its unlikely, if Khartabil was found, he cannot go to the US for refuge even though he has a standing invitation and would be doing important work. It is already hard enough for people like Khartabil to work towards helping his people, how can they keep fighting without the support of large nations like the US?

Free Speech

Through the web groups can expand their organizations and get in touch with the outside world. Activists have a much greater audience with sites such as “Digiactive” and Global Voices”. I went onto the sites that were mentioned in “Arab Bloggers Meet to Discuss Free speech, Reject ‘Journalist Label” and noticed that there were stories important things that I had no idea about. For example, I was able to read a story on Marcell Shehwaro, a young girl who dispatches on Syria and describes her like in Aleppo, the heart of Syria’s conflict. I was able to learn that the conditions of the people in Aleppo are much worse than I had imagined. Stories like these impact people more than the news, it has a way of connecting the reader to the person in the situation. I found it amazing that bloggers are coming together to share a common written language, as it develops solidarity. There is a difference between activists and bloggers that I had not realized, bloggers do not get the same type of security as activists. “Bloggers on the other hand don’t want to be victims or prisoners any longer than they have to be and emphasize that it shouldn’t matter what they say, only that they be allowed to say it” (Dheere 2008). Although many bloggers and journalists have things in common, bloggers do not want to be called journalists. Bloggers feel like they take a more active role in the news than reporting it. I agree, journalists seem to report news, whereas bloggers report deeper emotions and acts. Many times this blogger state of mind gets people in deep trouble, for example in Morocco Mohammad Erraji was arrested and sentenced to two years in jail for “criticizing the king’s policy of free gifts to citizens” (Dheere 2008). With the lack of security and support many bloggers, in my opinion, do not boundaries or as high of boundaries regarding the information they report. This is great as the world needs to know what is happening, but it is negative because it leads to further conflict. “The more they write, challenge, and get around the official clampdown on using blogs and other social media tools, the more sites like DigiActive can document and distribute their acts of speaking truth to power” (Dheere 2008).

The Significance of Blogging

Digital activism is allowing 22 countries to develop solidarity against oppression. The thousands of bloggers in the MENA seem to understand what is needed from them in these times. They understand that they are not journalists and that is a positive thing. They don’t care about the fame a journalist might care about or have to go through the same obstacles to release their information. What impresses me time and again is that all these digital activists/bloggers are speaking just speaking their mind and reporting their account of the truth and letting the citizens decided everything after that. The bloggers need to be able to get around the issues a journalist can’t in order to fight against the current censorship laws their countries already have in practice.

The platforms the bloggers are given to write what they need to write is just as important. Without certain people creating a website and maintaining it, thousands of people’s voices would be silenced in an already quiet regime of censorship. Someone like Bassel Khartabil who wrote code to make Firefox work in Arabic. Human rights activists are always looking for ways to help open back up countries where free speech is limited and we’ve seen that the internet is our only solution for this.

This brings me back to the consumers of this information. We have people like Bassel starting platforms for free speech and then we have the thousands of bloggers noting the events and experiences felt. This leaves the rest of us to analyze the information make form our opinions and do something about it. There are so many ways to contribute, even just online.